Marie De Garis
Invasion of the fairies
The story of the beautiful Michèle, who came upon the little fairy king one dewy morning as he lay fast asleep under a hedge near Vazon Bay, is perhaps the best known of our island fairy tales. When the green-clad elf opened his eyes and beheld her he immediately fell in love with her. He then persuaded her to accompany him back to his boat, waiting for him, with the oarsmen down on the beach. They then sailed off together to Fairyland, a country which according to Guernsey tradition, was situated in far-away England.
The sequel to this romance is perhaps not so charming. The little king’s subjects were so enraptured by their new queen that the fairy bachelors decided that they, too, wanted Guernsey brides. They then, in the fashion of fairies, set forth to claim them.
According to legend the fairies landed in the island quite near the spot where their ruler had been seen by the Guernsey maiden They were observed by a startled cow-herd as they emerged from the cave at Houmet, now known as Le Creux des Fées. He watched with astonishment as they surged across the Vazon marshes. The whole area seemed covered with the green-garbed creatures, flitting about like a multitude of shrilling crickets. He was seen and captured. The elves set him free on condition that he went to his people and informed them that the sprites had arrived to claim their women. If the Guernseymen refused to hand them over the fairies would take the women forcibly from them.
The islanders naturally refused such a demand and prepared to do battle for their wives and daughters. Two men, however, rather than fight, hid together in a brick oven.
The local men fought bravely, but in the end the fairy power proved stronger than mortal might. Suffering great losses the Guernseymen were gradually pushed back across the island. A despairing last stand was made on the hill slopes west of the town of St Peter Port. It was to no avail. The mortal army was slaughtered to the last man.
The little fairy warriors married the Guernsey women. These apparently accepted the situation quite stoically. The elves settled down quite happily to a life of domestic bliss and peaceful agricultural pursuits. However, in time, the inexorable rule of fairyland, where by its denizens are permitted to leave it for a certain number of years and must then return, caught up with them. The little husbands sadly said farewell to their human wives and children and departed for their own homeland.
Since that time the indigenous Guernsey stock is reputed to be of fairy ancestry. The high proportion of short dark people in the island is cited as proof of this. Those men, who are tall and fair are considered to be the descendents of the two men who hid in the oven instead of fighting the fairies on the fateful day of the battle.
Marie De Garis stands preeminent among Guernsey people for her achievements in preserving Guernsey culture. This short extract is from the The Folklore of Guernsey, a fascinating collection of material about the island’s culture and traditions, which manages to be both scholarly and highly readable. It was first published in 1975 by Marie De Garis. She is also justly famous for her Dictiounnaire Angllais-Guernésiais (English-Guernésiais dictionary), first edition published in 1967.